Last Wednesday, British GQ released an interview with television personality Rachel Riley. Riley, regarded in the United Kingdom as “television’s best-known mathematician,” has quickly been pulled to the forefront of British politics as one of the U.K.’s most vocal critics of Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party’s alleged culture of anti-Semitism.
Riley’s interview was particularly poignant given the tremendous amount of harassment the television star has been subjected after daring to criticize Labour’s growing anti-Semitism problem, which many supporters of Labour allege to be a fabricated smear. Some episodes have been chronicled here and here. The incidents range from Corbyn’s appearance at the funeral honoring anti-Semitic terrorists to a litany of unsavory social media activity from various Labour members of Parliament (MPs).
In response to the downward trend, almost a dozen Labour MPs defected as a result of what they call Labour’s “repeated fail[ure] to address hatred of Jewish people within its ranks.” As one leading defector, Luciana Berger, put it, it’s not quite that Corbyn is anti-Semitic, it is rather that he has “been responsible for sharing platforms with anti-Semites and saying things that are highly offensive and anti-Semitic.” In doing the latter, arguably one inevitably becomes the former.
It is in the midst this environment that Riley, a mathematician by trade, has become an ally of those seeking to expose the Labour Party’s pernicious culture. Her interview spans a variety of topics, from Labour blunders to feminism, and her frank assessment of Corbynism offers a stiff wake-up call to those on the American left still confident that the electorate will accept anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Conducted by Alastair Campbell, a journalist and former spokesman for Tony Blair, the interview traces Riley’s recent foray into the political arena, where she has transformed into an accidental hero of the anti-Corbyn movement.
Riley Is the Moderate Critic Labour Needs
Formerly apolitical and self-labeled “in the middle,” Riley strikes viewers as a levelheaded third-party observer of what could only be described as political chaos. Her disgust towards the unfolding anti-Semitism crisis in Corbyn’s Labour Party is genuine, only made more sincere by the fact that, for most of her professional life, she has remained largely on the sidelines of U.K. politics.
She does not support Brexit. She loves the Obamas. Indeed, with a light chuckle, she confesses that she has voted for three different parties in her lifetime.
When Campbell asks where she believes anti-Semitism comes from, Riley’s initial response is marked by a sincere innocence: “I didn’t think it was around anymore.” To someone fairly removed from the Jewish community, this response might be reasonable, although it is worth acknowledging that anti-Semitic hate incidents have steadily been rising in the U.K. Riley’s mother is Jewish, and Riley identifies as an atheist, although she admits that her recent commentary on anti-Semitism has resulted in her forging stronger ties to the Jewish community.
What makes Riley’s interview most remarkable is that she captures the problem of Corbyn with incisive precision, of which even the most seasoned political journalists seem brazenly ignorant. The central issue with Corbyn is not whether he hates Jews (although that is staggeringly relevant) but rather, whether he willingly allows pervasive anti-Semitism to fester within his own party:
I couldn’t give a monkey’s if he [Corbyn] is an anti-Semite or not himself because the environment he supports, the environment he’s encouraging the stuff that people are doing in his name, is vile. So whether or not he says he’s an anti-Semite, he’s allowing this to happen, he’s condoning it, he’s taught people … that it’s a smear … So I couldn’t care less if he’s got friends who are Jewish or he doesn’t think that he’s an anti-Semite. It means nothing to me because he’s fostering an environment that is really hostile to Jews.
Does Corbyn Have ‘Empathy’ for Palestine?
Riley goes on to criticize Corbyn’s exploitation of the Palestinian cause, suggesting it is entirely possible the leader is championing Palestinian issues to forward his potentially anti-Jewish agenda. She concedes that she originally thought Corbyn’s anti-Semitic behavior came from “misplaced anger” stemming from “empathy” for the Palestinian cause. But Riley admits she believes it to be genuine anti-Semitism “driving [Corbyn’s] obsession with Israel” and that “the Palestinian cause happens to help that.”
She points directly to the fact that Corbyn is indifferent to human rights issues outside of Israel, noting that Corbyn is “very selective about when he decides to choose human rights to support which fit his world view or ideology.”
Riley’s understanding of Corbyn should be a warning sign for American Democrats who have relied heavily on the notion that their left-leaning electorate will remain largely silent in the face of ethnic hatred, as long as it is directed at Jews. Riley’s admission that she would vote Tory (conservative) in the next election on the basis of the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism offers a sharp lesson to the American left, who will face this future if they do not take steps to sharply condemn the Jewish hatred that has become the calling cards of their progressive ranks.
For now, Riley’s approach offers a blueprint for those who care deeply about a social problem but feel stifled by their apolitical backgrounds. As Riley says, “politics is supposed to be about making your society, your community, better,” emphasizing that “you don’t need to go into politics to make a difference.” Indeed, as Riley has done, you simply need to speak up.